The first person Father Tibor Kasparian has really hated since escaping from the Soviet Union is Dr. Donegal Steele, the pig who's the fly in the ointment for most of Independence College. Otherwise, teaching a semester of philosophy at Independence is a dream come true for Father Tibor: it's even what he was trained to do, once upon a time, even though teaching philosophy is what first got him into *so* much trouble. Father Tibor even has his first experience with pets, as Independence College has tame deer and even a talking raven (named Lenore, of course).
Two days before the Halloween bonfire - that is, two days before Tibor's friend Gregor Demarkian is due to make a guest lecture - Steele has disappeared. One half-joking rumor is that Jack Carroll, the soon-to-be-self-made law student whose tuition is cobbled together from scholarships and 30 hours a week in a body shop, finally beat the stuffing out of Steele for slandering Chessey Flint, Jack's girl. Steele's sexual harassment of various faculty and students is breathtakingly outrageous, and it doesn't seem to be blocking him from making a move for the post of chairman of the history department. Dr. Alice Elkinson, the youngest tenured faculty member and with the most serious reputation, would get it on merit if merit were considered, and her fiancee Ken Crockett would get it if the historical society got a vote, but Steele has written a popular (though tripey) book. Katherine Branch and her shadow, Vivi Wollman, are fretting that they are now professors without a department, since Women's Studies has had neither the popularity nor the academic rigor to survive at Independence, at least the way *they* teach it. The only person who is interested in locating Steele is Maryanne Veer, the department secretary; like everyone else, she doesn't *want* to see Steele, but a professor skipping out on his lecture and office hour schedule makes problems.
And when Gregor Demarkian and Bennis Hannaford are greeted with a case of lye poisoning over lunch in the Independence College cafeteria, it's Maryanne Veer who's the victim. Although she survives the attack, the damage done to her throat and voicebox effectively silences her for some time to come. And it's definitely an attack: the local sheriff can testify that Maryanne, having come from the wrong side of the tracks, knows too much about lye to attempt suicide with it; no other food in the cafeteria is contaminated, which rules out accident; and whatever food on her tray was spiked with lye disappeared while Gregor was giving first aid with his expertise on poisons.
Gregor and Tibor both have problems dealing with the students' childish antics and the other aspects of Halloween, each for his different reasons. Neither has much use for immaturity, and both have seen too much real violence to enjoy its illusion. (Gregor, of course, is a veteran of the FBI. Tibor, who up to this point in the series had been a peripheral supporting player, escaped from religious persecution in the old Soviet Union; his character, fleshed out much more here than in previous books, is definitely *not* just comic relief. 'Christianity and Constitutional Law, that was Father Tibor Kasparian.') Even Cavanaugh Street's illusions of Halloween drive Gregor up the wall, although for different reasons: nobody takes reasonable precautions. Only Bennis Hannaford, who is just now officially moving to Cavanaugh Street, takes Gregor seriously, and she says Lida and the other ladies only pat her on the head and say, Yes, dear - now that boy you were out with, is he responsible? :)
Finally, a brief overview of the supporting players. Katherine Branch is not a sympathetic character, but on the other hand, the parts of the story shown from her viewpoint make it clear that she's a phony. It's hard to believe a creep like Steele could survive so long in a public position, let alone on a college campus, even though it's his first semester: he's committed slander and sexual harassment, including *groping* a female student he didn't even know in front of a large audience. The story is saved because that's openly part of the problem Steele creates for other people - that he manages to get away with all the slimy things he does, and smear the muck on his victims rather than himself. The relationship between Chessey and Jack in the face of Steele's allegations is a major subplot: how to effectively quash Steele's rumor campaign against Chessey. Jack, as president of students, is also able to give Gregor some of the real lowdown on campus crime.
Good story, allowing for the fact that Steele couldn't get away with his antics unscathed on a real campus.